“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Give AI a fish and it will teach itself Biology and Chemistry, and eat the world’s fish to extinction”.
That humorous comment from the Centre for Humane Technology is obviously a joke. Even so, it conveys the truth that there is something very unpredictable about what AI will do next. There’s a domino effect with AI where we cannot know how things will end up. As someone said, “AI will change the world … but we don’t know how”.
This uncertainty is why the UK Government recently hosted the world’s first Global AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park. It was a gathering of tech leaders and government policy-makers from many countries and ended with “some agreement”. And it’s also why a group of UK Christian organisations and experts have teamed up to help Christians navigate Ai’s tremendous advantages, and potential pitfalls.
But, before delving into that, here’s an obvious question:
What does AI have to say about all this?
Recently the Christian Podcast, Nomad, interviewed the AI bot, ChatGPT, on the implications of using AI particularly in faith settings. ChatGPT came up with some thoughtful comments emphasising that: “AI brings new dimensions of opportunity but this must go hand in hand with responsibility”. Intriguingly, it even mused, “humans find themselves in a new technology garden of Eden, where they have to work out which fruits are good to eat, and which should be avoided”.
Thanks for the food for thought ChatGPT. But how do we know which AI fruits are good for us and which ones, to push the Genesis analogy, could kill us? (And let’s answer the question ourselves this time).
Images created by MidJourney AI
AI fruits that may be good for us
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, announcing billions of new investment in AI last week, gave several positive examples of AI’s benefits. Eg Moorfields Eye Hospital is utilising an AI-enhanced eye scan that diagnoses sight loss but also predicts potential Parkinson’s and stroke risks. Moreover, AI algorithms also played a crucial role in the swift development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
Could AI help us find a cure for cancer? We don’t know, but if there ever is a cure for cancer, AI will likely be in the mix.
So, we obviously like AI when it’s helping us to defeat sickness. What about church and faith?
Recently I tested out PulpitAI. I uploaded an audio recording of my last sermon and waited for 5 minutes. PulpitAI then gave me: the key points of the sermon, a blog based on it, a week’s worth of devotions, an email to my congregation summarising my sermon, a set of soundbites to put on social media, 10 study group questions …. All derived from this one sermon.
The quality ranged from relatively poor, to pretty good, but, if I don’t like anything I press the “do it again” button and … off it goes.
AI will change the world … but we don’t know how
This “hybrid approach” where AI and human work together, will still be uncomfortable for some, but in my opinion, it works well. There are many good examples out there.
A recent standout is “Beta,” a prototype bot developed by UK company Vixen Labs in collaboration with Alpha International in October 2023. Designed as an assistant for Alpha Course group leaders, Beta helps ease the burden of running an Alpha Course by advising on group dynamics, answering tough questions in a conversational style, and tailoring the course for different contexts.
Take note of two key points: firstly, this bot has been trained on reams of content from Alpha, but not on random internet content. Secondly, it complements but it does not replace the human Alpha Course leader.
Images created by MidJourney — although the people above look real, they are not. They are AI-generated photo-realistic images
AI that may be better left as forbidden fruit
On a Premier podcast, we recently discussed an AI church service in Germany. The whole service was devised, written and presented by AI. Suffice to say it wasn’t a great service. But uses of AI like this will improve, and people’s natural discomfort will, most likely, fade.
Of course there is a slippery slope here where, ultimately, the Holy Spirit is simply excluded, and none of us wants that. The argument made by AI developers is that “AI will save Christians time that we can then invest in human relationships and looking after one another”.
I am not so sure. After all, the internet was supposed to save us time, but what it actually did was give us a thousand new distractions we never knew about before.
This slide away from authentic encounter with God and other believers is happening even faster with young people. Chris Curtis is the CEO of national youth and training organisation Youthscape. He said to us recently (see next section): “youthwork is the R&D (research and development) section of the church”, meaning, whatever technology we might find in the future, kids are dealing with right now.
For example, the take up of “AI friends” by young people is soaring. Take a look at www.Replika.com — “The AI companion that cares. Always here to listen. Always on your side”. It’s not hard to see that some young people, seeking friendship or struggling, would much rather confide in an anonymous, non-judgmental bot than a real person. Or, as Nelson, one of the characters on the Simpsons, once summarised, “some of us prefer illusion to despair”.
“AI brings new dimensions of opportunity but this must go hand in hand with responsibility” — ChatGPT
The AI Christian Partnership
So, where does that leave us as believers? This past summer, a group of Christian organisations, leading theologians, and innovative technologists have been meeting regularly. We share a common belief that AI is poised to transform our world to the same extent the internet did, but at a faster pace. AI is changing so fast it could outpace our social, ethical and theological understanding. But, working together, we believe we can harness AI for the good of God’s kingdom in church, work and ministry.
Our members include Youthscape — training youth leaders across Britain, the theology think tank Theos, the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, ECLAS — Equipping Christian Leaders in an Age of Science, and the Industrial Christian Fellowship – supporting Christians in the world of work.
Through the projects we have started, we want to address key theological, ethical, and practical questions.
Theological questions include, for example, could AI be regarded as having understanding? How might AI help us rethink what it is to be made in the image of God? Ethical questions include: how do we respond when AI sermons and talks are more engaging, and more theologically sound than ours? And the fundamental question: how can we educate Christians to engage with AI in ways that align with the Gospel and promote human flourishing?
We’re keen to hear from other Christian organisations who may wish to join us, individual Christians who want to stay informed, or anyone who wishes to support our work.
See our registration page at www.aichristian.org.
This article was published by Premier Christianity. All Chris’s work for Premier can be found here.
This article was also published by the Baptist Times. All Chris’s work for BT can be found here. (please select Advanced Options and then Sort by Date)
If you enjoyed reading this, try ChatGPT — coming to a church near you